Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mail Time!

I got a rare bit of actual decent mail with a real question from someone I'll refer to as "CC." CC asked the following:

I have a somewhat complicated question. I have encountered on several occasions, men who identify as feminists or allies but who won't acknowledge that when it comes to the issues of women, they sometimes just need to step back and defer. But I've been told that not considering their opinions in such discussions is totally patriarchal and dogmatic. In a sense, I feel that these particular men are policing my feminism and how I experience things as a woman. I'm not sure how to respond to that. As women AND feminists, are we allowed to decide whether a man gets to have a role in discussions of our bodies and experiences and determine the extent to which their roles are meaningful? Do you happen to have any previous posts on the subject matter?

Dear CC,

Firstly, you are absolutely right! The men telling you that not "considering" their "opinions" is being patriarchal are in fact that ones being patriarchal! They're also terrible and need an extensive time out in the garbage can!

I do in fact have a couple key posts that address this problem. The first is one of my more popular posts, entitled Men and Their Very Important Opinions. It explains how their insistence on giving opinions on things they don't and can't truly understand is hypocritical and how talking over women about their own experiences is an aspect of male entitlement that reinforces the patriarchal notion that every single little thought that comes into their head is an Incredibly Important Opinion That All Must Listen To Because Listen To Me I'm A Man LisTEN TO ME.

You also might find it helpful to direct these men to my post How to Ally. Step 3 explains how important it is for privileged people to shut the hell up.

To get through this challenging step, you need to realize two things. The first is that you are not and will never be an expert in the experiences of people whom you have privilege over. Men can educate themselves and listen to women for their whole lives, but they will still never have the same experiences, and therefore cannot understand on a deep, emotional level what women go through. It's not their fault, but it's true. And you wouldn't expect to be taken seriously on any other subject if you weren't an expert, right? You don't bust into a panel at a physics convention and go "I've watched Big Bang Theory so everyone listen to my opinions about physics!" Do you? 
Second is that no matter how insightful and new an idea you might think you have about a maginalization you don't experience, I can almost guarantee that someone else has already said it. A woman has already written something about that, guys. White people, don't bother writing about that insight you had on race relations, because there are already several books about it that were written by people of color.

I hope this helps. Few things are more frustrating than so-called "allies" who can't even do the basic ally work of realizing that every thought that pops into their head is not more important than actually listening to the oppressed people they have power over.

Yours Always,


1 comment:

Mooseplaining Max said...

You see it a lot on twitter where a dude claims the feminist title and fails specularly. I've seen a few refuse to listen to women when they say they're allying badly since feminism is about men too. After all, the dictionary (the perennial favorite) defines feminism as equality between sexes, and we know a few bullet points on a quarter of a page in smallish print are as comprehensive an overview as thousands of books, blogs, and social theory that has been published over the years.

Then when they have a few women telling them they're allying wrong, they have the arrogance to assume there are other ways to be a feminist (not ally, word choice is important) and their way is just as valid as, oh, people feminism actually affects.

Also, they're much nicer to me than women when I take them aside and explain things for some reason. =0